Europe’s closest title fight on the line as Napoli ‘believe in the dream’ in Serie A

The tighest of the top five leagues could end the weekend with three teams level at the top

Karl Matchett
Sunday 06 March 2022 08:50
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Improbable as it seems in an era of PSG enjoying a 15-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table, competitive action is actually rife throughout Europe’s top leagues just now - if you care to see it.

England, of course, sees a two-team fight for the title right now, but it’s one from at least four for the final Champions League spot. While in Spain five will fight it out for third, fourth and beyond, Italy has a straight-up title classic going on: Napoli, AC Milan and reigning champions Inter Milan all within a point, while Juventus are only a few more back themselves.

Indeed, it’s far from improbable that Serie A ends the weekend with each of the top three teams locked on 58 points with only 10 rounds to go.

Napoli led the way heading into these games and host Milan on Sunday night; a draw in that game following a 5-0 Nerazzurri win over bottom club Salernitana on Friday will leave the trio neck and neck - though Inter will again have a game in hand.

It’s only in victory that the weekend hosts of the table-topping clash are thinking, though, having beaten Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Co 1-0 at the San Siro earlier in the season. A clean sheet there was nothing new or unusual; it has been the bedrock of Gli Azzurri’s title charge.

Amir Rrahmani has forged a tremendous partnership with Kalidou Koulibaly at the back, so much so that Kostas Manolas has been offloaded after a woeful downturn in his own career - while Napoli are now one of only four teams in Europe’s top five leagues to have still conceded fewer than 20 goals this season. They’ve also played more games than two of the other teams to do so.

“We are up there and we believe in the dream,” the Kosovan international said ahead of the weekend, following an injury-time victory over Lazio last time out.

“We felt a great emotion because winning is beautiful and winning at the last moment is even more beautiful. I think we have shown that we have character because after Lazio's [88th-minute] equaliser we tried to win it again.

"It is clear that we would like to stay ahead until the end and be the protagonists. But anything can happen on the pitch and you have to live for the day. The fans' dream is also ours. What I can say is that we will give our soul to be able to get where we all want.”

Napoli have been something of reluctant bridesmaids all too many times. They have clocked up four runners-up spots in the league in the past nine seasons. A double over AC Milan would go some way toward boosting optimism of finally ending their long wait for a first top-flight title since 1990, with no team higher than fifth left to play thereafter.

Over in Germany meanwhile, the Bundesliga might have a title fight still ongoing past this weekend, but it would take quite the combination of results over the coming rounds.

Notably, Borussia Dortmund’s game against Mainz has been postponed “due to domestic isolation as a result of positive corona findings,” BVB clarified. Mainz do not “have the minimum number of players required by the DFL rules of the game” to see the fixture fulfilled, so it has been pushed back to 16 March.

Before they can make up that fixture, they have another game and leaders Bayern Munich have two - although Julian Nagelsmann’s team could only draw 1-1 with third-place Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, missing a chance to go 11 points clear and settling for ‘just’ a nine-point advantage over Dortmund instead. BVB of course still have a game in hand and a trip to the Allianz lying ahead.

Finally, while we started by noting PSG’s mammoth lead in Ligue 1, the subject of tight leagues still applies to the rest of France.

Third-place Nice welcomed the leaders on Saturday night and Andy Delort’s 88th-minute goal gave the hosts a remarkable 1-0 win to inflict just a third league defeat of the season on PSG.

It moved Nice two points above second-spot Marseille, who themselves host Monaco who are 10th on Sunday - and yet Monaco are also only five points off fourth, offering up the prospect of several teams missing European football next season by just a couple of points, yet somehow also ending up in mid-table.

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